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Old 07-17-11, 01:34 PM   #1
Pink Elephant
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Dream trip to France, please advise.

Hello all, long time lurker, first time poster. I apologize in advance for how long this post is going to be.

I'd really like to do a 2 week cycling tour in France (or Italy, but France is number one for now) in either a few years. I have some ideas of how I want to do it, but I wanted some input before I seriously started planning. Here's what I'm thinking:

- I would plan for 14 days of cycling with 2-4 flex days off for bad weather or dead legs.

- I would like to structure it similar to the Tour so that I'd be riding 100-200 kms per day from one town to another.

- I would like to hit the major climbs (d'Huez, Tourmalet).

The major questions I have are:

- If I stick to past Tour routes, will the roads be nice? Is the traffic bad?

- By the time I go, my current road bike will be old enough that I could send it over with me and not mind if I have to slog through rain for most of the trip.

- My bike is not a touring bike and I won't be putting panniers on it. I plan on stuffing all the tools and such in a saddle bag, and keeping one set of clothes in a small bag that I'll carry on the trip. I plan on washing my riding clothes at the hotel each day.

- I'm trying to think of all the things that I'd need to carry (patch kit, tubes, extra tire, tools, food, water, passports, money, clothes) but I'm not sure if I'm missing a lot of things which would make it impossible to do without either support or panniers.

I know this is a huge undertaking and doing a trip like this myself is not the easiest or best way to plan it, but I'd like to do it so that I can do my rides and my own pace and not be tied down by a scheduled tour. If you could help me out in any way (even if it's saying I'm bonkers) I'd appreciate it.

Oh, and I've done some Google searches on this but didn't really come up with much, so if you know there are existing threads with good info, please link or yell at me to search better.

Thanks!
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Old 07-19-11, 07:59 AM   #2
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sure; why not! should be a good trip! its been done before plenty so i wouldn't worry too much, the roads are mostly quite alright
i'd recommend doing the Col de La Bonette too (Southern Alps), highest paved road in Europe, nice views!
cycling with a bag on your back sucks big time though; can't you install a small rack where you can put the bare minimum?
if you cycle around the same time as the Tour de France you should check hotel booking beforehand, it can get pretty crazy around then
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Old 07-19-11, 09:02 AM   #3
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FWIW, this is our CC tour pack list besides the kit we're wearing. The stuff is evenly divided between two small panniers to keep the weight down low.

Bike Shorts

Bike Jersey

Gore Tex jacket

Fleece hoody

Off bike shorts

Off bike shirt

Merino wool leg warmers

Small toilet kit

Tubes

Patches

Bike tool kit
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Old 07-19-11, 10:11 AM   #4
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You can check out the links in my sig.

Personally I don't really get wanting to do the tour route. Sure it's nice, but I'd rather plan my own route, and let's face it, sometimes they ride on roads I would never ride on (N roads). That said, if you are a cycle racing fan and want to do it to say you've done it then go for it.

One route you might want to look into if you want hard riding, mountain, and beautiful scenery is the route that traverses the Pyrenees. 10-12 days of riding and an assload of climbing.

You are planning on staying in hotels, gite d'etape, and such? Book well in advance, especially in july and august.
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Old 07-19-11, 10:24 AM   #5
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Best done in Sept when the weather is fine, the kids are back in school, the hotels less full and the high cols are open.
The raid Pyrenee is a good classic route but if you have extra time there are plenty of great minor climbs to explore. Pyrenees are cheaper then the Alpes and there seemed to be plenty of hotels along the way. You can scoot into Spain for a bit of flavour.
A saddlebag/barbag combo is ideal for roadbike touring, or a seatpost rack with small panniers. Being bike country, they are used to diners in riding or apres riding clothes.

I rode this area with a solo tent and sleeping bag, staying at the many campsites but eating out. You dont need to plan everything in advance, local tourist information centres are very helpful. There are some non-biking attractions which are worth seeing, such as the prehistoric cave paintings at Niaux.

Another really great location is Grenoble, a bike-friendly small city tucked between 3 different mountain ranges, close to the classic Tour mountain stages of the Belledonne Alpes: Alp D'Huez, Galibier, Telegraph etc. The Chatreuse and Vecors mountains are less spectacular but have fantastic riding.

Last edited by MichaelW; 07-20-11 at 03:12 AM.
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Old 07-19-11, 11:42 AM   #6
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June & September are usually both good months in terms of weather and traffic. In terms of mountain scenery, you'll have lots of snow on the peaks in June, but not much left in September, especially in the Pyrenees. I rode up (with panniers) the Col du Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux in late May and was lucky enough to have great weather each time. I would recommend that you NOT follow the Tour routes when you're out of the mountains, however. Those routes will typically be on major roads which are OK on Tour day when they're closed to motor vehicles (other than those really, really annoying vehicles preceding the tour). You would find lots of traffic on them the other 364 days of the year, however. France has a fantastic network of very good secondary roads with minimal traffic which will result in a much more pleasant riding experience.

It's not really the huge undertaking that you're imagining. It's common to find a hotel or two in small towns in France, and the same goes for restaurants which generally have excellent food at prices much lower than in Paris. Hotelkeepers are usually very welcoming toward cyclists. In June or September you normally don't need room reservations.
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Old 07-20-11, 08:43 PM   #7
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June & September are usually both good months...
^^ this
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Old 07-22-11, 09:39 PM   #8
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towns, villages in close proximity, very good hotel, b+b, campground info available, good roads (including the D or departemental smaller ones) , it all works for a trip like this. Just spend time planning a route and finding accom etc and it should plan out fine.

Im another fan of the Pyrenees, very beautiful area and teh climbs are very neat.

+2 on not being anywhere near the Tour time....too crazy. I was in the Pyrnees in mid to late aug for a few weeks and weather was fine, wouldnt want to do passes high up with cold and rain, but then sometimes its a crapshoot for september.
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Old 07-22-11, 11:59 PM   #9
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try for 4 weeks, =D but avoid August most of Europe gets that month for a holiday..

In general what interests you? the Battle of the Somme .. Champagne ?

Normandy , Loire , Strasbourg, gallery hopping in Paris?

have a nice trip ..

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Old 07-23-11, 12:59 AM   #10
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Look at hostel accommodation. There are lots of international hostels all over France, they are mostly pretty civilised and they're cheap. I'm doing a big tour of France myself next year, May and June are my months of choice.
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Old 07-23-11, 01:27 AM   #11
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sure; why not! should be a good trip! its been done before plenty so i wouldn't worry too much, the roads are mostly quite alright
i'd recommend doing the Col de La Bonette too (Southern Alps), highest paved road in Europe, nice views!
cycling with a bag on your back sucks big time though; can't you install a small rack where you can put the bare minimum?
if you cycle around the same time as the Tour de France you should check hotel booking beforehand, it can get pretty crazy around then
If you are visiting France in August you should check bookings in advnce.. While exploring France in August we've spent hours seeking out a hotel/b & b with a vacancy.. Sometimes even having to sleep in the car.. A chain that is accommadating to cyclists is often the Logis chain.. Personally, I think I"d take this tour in late May. Before school lets out. THe south of France is cooler and the roads less crowded.. Middle Setptember would also be a good choice.
Do you have to hit TDF exactly as it is routed.. I would not. Using smaller 'd' roads to connect to the more famous cols would be more choice. d roads are known as being more rural in character and usually more cycling friendly. I'd get the Ulysses Guide to cycling in France. They will route you on the cycling friendly, scenic routes in pursuit of the Tour's more famous sites.. YOu will be connecting the various parts of France together via train.. ? YOu might check out a train pass to see if it saves you any cash.. Don't normlly use the famous TGV trains.. Use the regional trains.. They are more bike friendly. You use the TGV you will have to pack up and box your bike. On the regional trains you will not have to do that.. They are not all that much slower.
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Old 07-25-11, 07:36 AM   #12
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Hello all, long time lurker, first time poster. I apologize in advance for how long this post is going to be.........Oh, and I've done some Google searches on this but didn't really come up with much, so if you know there are existing threads with good info, please link or yell at me to search better.
Thanks!
Hiya, nice idea to plan such a route ! I live in Grenoble and I have done a similar epic trip through the Pyrenees a few years ago, we were 3 guys and our plan was to rent/drive a camping van, this allowed us to sleep wherever we wanted and take as much stuff as we wanted without having to carry it on the bike.. So much easier !
- Half of the Tour routes are great and fairly quiet but you'd better avoid the "RN" in red on the map, these are usually busy roads.
- June and July are the best time to plan such a trip, you should avoid august if you can, it's a nice month but busy and with thunder storms, it also get colder on top of passes. June is my favorite because it is still all green with there is still some snow on top of the passes despite the heat !
- It seems to be easy and cheap to bring your own bike from abroad so if you want to ride for 200km, I think you should use the bike you like the most and make him also experience this epic trip !
I am also planning a trip through the Alps/Pyrenees next year probably so If you need anymore advise or want some colleagues to cycle with, give me a shout ! 7 days from Evian to Nice through the most famous Alpine cols are a favorite plan for me Ced
(miolanet at yahoo dot fr)
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Old 07-25-11, 08:00 AM   #13
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I just read a journal on Crazyguy by a couple who did something similar. It's here if you'd like to take a look: La Belle France. The authors camped, though.

And don't carry things on your back. If you don't want racks and panniers, get a good saddlebag, like a Carradice Nelson (or a bigger one).

Finally, I'd recommend avoiding much of the Tour route for the reasons mentioned. The Lonely Planet guide to cycling in France has some good routes through the Alps and Pyrenees (and elsewhere), emphasizing secondary roads. It also has a good section on the equipment to take and on practicalities of visiting France.

This is eminently doable and should be a lot of fun. Enjoy planning, and when the time comes, enjoy the trip!
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Old 07-25-11, 06:03 PM   #14
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Since you have a few years, the very best advice I can give is do a few local trips first. You will be amazed at how many simple things that seemed obvious that you will only learn on a tour. Put the trips together yourself, learn to read maps and navigate.

You also have 3 years to learn a bit of French (or Italian). Many people will tell you you don't need to know the local language. While that may be true for the larger cities, it may not be true for smaller towns. And you really should avoid the large cities and seek out the small towns. And it is just polite to know a bit of the language where you are visiting. I have never toured in France but I can tell you that many folks in small towns will first tell you that they do not speak English. If you try a bit of Italian, they get over their own shyness and try their English. Between your poor Italian and their poor English somehow you make it work.

As far as places to stay also consider Warmshowers.org and CouchSurfing.org. Warmshowers is not yet real big in Europe but it is growing. The nice thing about it is that it is more touring oriented. Most members understand they are there to help you. Couchsurfing is much more social. The main focus is getting to know others and not just a place to stay, sometimes that does not work out so well with touring.

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Old 07-25-11, 06:53 PM   #15
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Since you have a few years, the very best advice I can give is do a few local trips first. You will be amazed at how many simple things that seemed obvious that you will only learn on a tour. Put the trips together yourself, learn to read maps and navigate.

You also have 3 years to learn a bit of French (or Italian). Many people will tell you you don't need to know the local language. While that may be true for the larger cities, it may not be true for smaller towns. And you really should avoid the large cities and seek out the small towns. And it is just polite to know a bit of the language where you are visiting. I have never toured in France but I can tell you that many folks in small towns will first tell you that they do not speak English. If you try a bit of Italian, they get over their own shyness and try their English. Between your poor Italian and their poor English somehow you make it work.
^^ This!

For a longer tour in a foreign country, you really want to know what you're doing, rather than winging it. Have your equipment the way you like it, know what works for you etc. There's lots of great advice in this forum, so please look through the threads, but only you will know what works for you.

We usually go to France in September and the weather is still great, less people and more vacancies. But the sun goes down sooner and most hotels still consider September a high season, just something to be aware of.

Also, your plan of riding 100-200 kms per day sounds like a bit over the top to me. Just because you can ride that much in a day doesn't neccessarily mean you should. There are lots of beautiful places in France and you will want to stop and sightsee (that's the point of touring, I think). Riding 200 km per day, all you will see is the road, you can do that at home. Take your time, enjoy a great lunch, maybe a chat with a waiter or fellow traveler, have a look around town or village. You can be in a rush again when you get back home.

I've been to both Italy and France, but only rode in France. It's a fantastic place for a bike trip and it's amazing how much respect you get from drivers compared to riding at home. I can't wait to go back!
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Old 07-25-11, 07:19 PM   #16
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As far as places to stay also consider Warmshowers.org and CouchSurfing.org. Warmshowers is not yet real big in Europe but it is growing.
Actually, warmshowers has lots of members in France - 775 as of today (1,305 if you include those "not currently available"), compared to a mere 98 in Italy (146 including those "not currently available").
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Old 07-26-11, 07:58 AM   #17
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Thanks for the replies everyone. I guess I should have realized that the Tour routes are on closed major roads which should be avoided for us "normal" folk.

I'll be doing as much planning as I can this summer, and with luck, take a couple mini trips as suggested above.

Another note, this trip is more for the cycling, climbs and scenery rather than visiting specific places and such.

The way my work schedule is, I doubt I'll be able to do this until after June. It looks like September would be the best option.

Also, there are no climbs where I live, and while I will definitely train hard for them, I know they will be difficult. Where do most people prefer to put climbing days? Beginning, middle or end of trip?

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Old 07-26-11, 08:57 AM   #18
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The great thing about touring in France to me is that you DON'T need to really plan your route. Just buy the Michelin spiral bound mapbook, get a highlighter, and connect the places you want to go, or areas you want to see, with the little white roads highlighted in green. Boom, instant scenic route on virtually traffic free roads.
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Old 07-27-11, 10:23 AM   #19
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I've toured a few times in France, and agree with almost everything that's been said. For someone from the UK (like me) France is a BIG country, and you shouldn't expect to explore all of it in two weeks. So maybe consider the Pyrenees but not the Alps, for example. Plenty of lovely lowland riding in the South of France too - for a really easy ride you could follow the Canal du Midi from Carcassonne eastwards towards Beziers, then head south-west into the mountains. Provence is lovely too, but beware the Mistral! Mont Ventoux is kinda iconic, especially for Brits (on account of Tommy Simpson). I must ride up it one day - Iban Mayo did it in 56 minutes, so I'll need about four hours!

Using trains is possible in rural France, though not always as easy as in German-speaking countries, which are VERY bike-friendly. But if you check the timetables carefully, you should be able to leap-frog some of the less interesting regions. Good maps are important, as signage in rural areas, even on motor roads, can be poor. Be aware that many French people take most of August as their annual holiday, so shops and restaurants, especially ones off the beaten track, may be closed. When you do find food, it will be excellent, of course - but stick to "official" mealtimes (generally 12 till 2 for lunch, 7.30 till late for dinner) and don't expect to find much in the way of "real" food outside those times, except in bigger towns (or hypermarkets, or motorway service areas).
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Old 07-27-11, 12:58 PM   #20
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I just want to mention that if you want to take your bike on the train you should go to the station and ask a real person versus buying online. As an example from Lyon to Dijon (direct) there is only a TGV which does not allow bikes, however you can take a local train with a connection to get to Dijon with a bike. However, if you do not know which town you need to connect through then you likely won't know that you can actually get to Dijon with your bike.
Something to keep in mind.

A lot of this info is in my "practical guide to touring France" article linked in my sig.
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Old 08-08-14, 01:32 AM   #21
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Agreed. Trying to fit "everything in" will often mean you miss out one some of the best things. Everyone always wants to hit both the Alps and the Pyrenees, which is fine, but focusing on just one generally gives you a much better trip.

We tend to focus on trips out of one single location. We have done years of trips with many different locations and staying in one place is the way to go, or at least limiting the amount of different locations.
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Old 08-08-14, 02:48 AM   #22
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Three year old thread..
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